Laurie Colwin, who wrote for Gourmet from the mid-’80s through the early ’90s, was one of the magazine’s best-loved columnists. I had first made her acquaintance some years previously, in the offices at Alfred A. Knopf, her publisher. I was an assistant and new to the city; Laurie was a dazzling young novelist who seemed wise beyond her years. Somehow she learned that I invited people I barely knew home for supper. Nothing fancy, mind you—I was barely making ends meet—but roast chicken and potatoes, maybe, or a big pot of soup or red rice. “How else can I make any friends?” I found myself explaining. Laurie was entranced, and promptly invited herself over. A day or so later, there was a slim package on my desk, wrapped in striped paper, with a note: “That was a most delicious evening,” she had scrawled. “And you deserve a good knife.”
Laurie died, unexpectedly, of heart failure, in 1992, at the age of 48. I still think of her almost every time I pick up that knife, especially if I’m making one of the recipes she wrote up for our pages. They were published in two collections, Home Cooking and—my personal favorite—More Home Cooking. We had reconnected when I landed at Gourmet, and I was fortunate enough to edit her monthly essays, which she’d mail in, five or so at a time. I secretly cherished the fact that the person behind the immaculate prose couldn’t spell; it gave me something to do besides tuck in an occasional comma.
Laurie wrote about the connection between farm and plate long before it was fashionable, and about the evolving concept of the family dinner at a time when working mothers were in desperate need of guidance. Her food writing, like her novels, was full of honesty, generosity, and good cheer. She celebrated the charms of domesticity, and knew how to be romantic or fanciful without being sentimental. And she treated the recipes almost as casual afterthoughts—a welcome break, to my mind, something freeing and ebullient in a magazine filled with pages of careful instructions. Laurie’s recipes had a sneaky way of working themselves into my culinary repertoire: the three chocolate cakes; tomato pie with a Cheddary, crumbly crust; beets with angel-hair pasta and ginger-spiked beet greens; the rosemary walnuts that helped fuel many a party. I love them still.